Isaac Placke is a sophomore with a Spanish major. He is traveling to Cuenca, Ecuador from March till May 2012. Follow his Spring Quarter journey abroad here and also find him on Twitter, @iketom91.
I finally feel that I’ve settled in. I am currently relaxing on a couch with the pint-sized family dog curled up in my lap, typing on my computer and listening to the steady nightly rain on the window. This level of relaxation is not one I expected to find so soon into my ten-week stay here in Cuenca, Ecuador.
The previous days of my trip had been less restful for me as I, along with nine other Ohio University folks studying abroad, arrived a late March in Cuenca after five days of traveling down the Andes Mountains on the Pan-American Highway. Our plane touched down in Ecuador’s capital city of Quito, and we were then bussed southward down the mountain range, making frequent stops along the way to experience the different sights and sounds of Ecuador, all the while experiencing completely different weather, altitude, language, and diet.
(A map of our trip. Quito in the top left and Cuenca in the bottom right)
On one of our first days in Ecuador, we visited the exact middle of the earth, located in Quito and were able to experiment with various phenomena that occur only on the equator.
We then continued on, visiting one of Ecuador’s many rose plantations. The climate so close to the equator has enabled flowers to become one of the country’s chief exports.
Midway on our trip to Cuenca, we stopped by a notoriously haunted colonial hacienda, listening to ghost stories, and spending the night in another hacienda with a view of an active volcano.
Here we are stopping at a small town of people indigenous to Ecuador, tying rows of bells to our legs to learn traditional Saraguro dances and weaving:
On the final leg of our journey, after eight hours and navigating a minor landslide, we finally finding ourselves in the historic city of Cuenca. On our first night, we all were able to meet our host families and attempt to settle in to the city we would be living with for the next two months.
While all this hopping from place to place is extremely enjoyable, informative, and definitely worthwhile, the shift to using a different language and living in different places with different customs and people can leave students traveling abroad a little stressed and overwhelmed, myself included. In order for me to alleviate some of this traveling stress and the culture shock of such a new environment, I have found a couple methods that often help me to settle in.
Going for a wander around where I live has always been one of my favorite cures for disorientation of any kind. Despite a completely new environment, walking and looking around makes me feel less lost and more connected to the new part of the world around me. Getting a good map and deciding for myself where I would like to go and what I would like to see instead of being led around by tour guides and program directors can be a very beneficial and freeing experience. On my first morning in Cuenca I got up early to stretch my legs and explore my new home, getting breakfast for 14¢ from a little bread shop that I ran into along the way. After just an hour of meandering down the narrow, cobbled streets I could already feel that I was more acquainted with the city and that my head had stopped spinning quite so fast.
Reading, for me, is another very useful method of stress relief wherever I am. Luckily, Cuenca is full of little green spaces to rest in. So far, it has been wonderfully easy to find a nearby park bench, a shady garden or a comfy chair outside a café tosit and read. Reading in a nice spot in the city where I can see people go by about their day is the ultimate in relaxation and also gives me the chance to learn about where I am. Books about the history of places in the city, famous residents, holidays, big celebrations and other cultures and customs of the new area can lend a sense of perspective and familiarity to my new environment, first steps to feeling at home.
Keeping up with a hobby can also provide this same sense of familiarity and help you get to know your host family. My combined love of cooking and the fact that I brought a ukulele with me on the trip have so far aided me immensely in feeling comfortable here in Cuenca. Although I’m a poor chef, and an even worse musician, learning to make delicious Ecuadorean soups from my host mom and teaching my host father what little I know of chords and other musical things have added a much more natural feel to speaking Spanish and with living with people I didn’t know just a week ago.
More to come as I am hoping to find out some more recipes from my host mom. Perhaps I will be able to share them with you next time after Viernes Santo (Good Friday), which I am told is a huge cooking day in Cuenca. Nos vemos.